In 2012, Nigeria introduced the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) and promoted it as a key driver in becoming one of the world’s largest economies.

The goal of NFIS is to decrease the number of Nigerians without access to financial services from 46.3% to 20% by the year 2020. These developments present an exciting opportunity for female entrepreneurs, especially, to participate in the banking system.

Despite being Africa’s largest economy, only 30% of Nigerian adults have an account at a formal banking institution. Currently, more women are excluded than men, with about 73% of them holding no account.

The problem is most acute in the northern parts of the country, where rates of financial exclusion are more than double the rates of the southern parts. The lives of the unbanked could be improved through access to basic banking services such as deposits, savings, installment loans and secure remittances.

At Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), we invest in the younger generation, because they have the longest productivity cycles and are co-creators of powerful ICT solutions. Likewise, we invest in women, many of whom are the economic pillars of the communities that we serve.

Through a partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, VISA and the First Bank of Nigeria, YTF launched Mobile Financial Services for Women in Nigeria, an initiative that provides female entrepreneurs in the country with an innovative, mobile-technology solutions to meet one of the greatest challenges of our generation: financial inclusion in emerging economies.

Through this project, 2,500 women from 10 states in Nigeria (Abia, Lagos, Osun, Rivers, Anambra, Oyo, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano and Bauchi) will become mobile banking agents. With the help of the FirstMonie mobile banking platform, they will offer Nigerians branchless banking and mobile financial services.

YTF is providing these women with training in entrepreneurship and financial capabilities as well as ongoing support, monitoring and evaluation. Based on the bank’s average agents-to-customer rates, the initiative expects to positively impact 75,000 Nigerians in its first year.

In Nigeria, as in many developing African countries, physical proximity to a branch is the most significant barrier to accessing basic financial services. In a 2011 poll of Nigeria’s unbanked people, 61% expressed a desire to have an account, but there was no bank near enough to make these simple wishes a reality.

Technology can enable banks and their customers to interact remotely through existing local retail outlets. YTF’s primary aim is to enable a greater number of female entrepreneurs to enter the electronic-payment value chain in Nigeria – a sector that is poised to grow tremendously in the coming years. The Mobile Financial Services for Women in Nigeria initiative will enable female entrepreneurs to become better linked with the financial sector and provide them with the crucial training and capacity-building support they need to build their businesses.

One of the prerequisites for development of a national economy is to encourage a payment system that is secure, affordable and accessible. In Nigeria, as in many developing countries, cash is the main mode of payment and a large percentage of the population is unbanked.  Branchless banking uses technology to bring financial services to underserved populations.

Last week, YTF trained 150 female banking agents in Anambra, and I had an opportunity to engage with several of them. They expressed excitement about the opportunity to increase sales and grow their businesses. In Lagos, where YTF trained 500 banking agents, there was optimism over the fact that banking could eliminate, or at least reduce, the need to provide credit to customers, since customer accounts can be debited on occasions when they don’t have cash available.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest mobile market, with 133 million subscribers and a market penetration of around 75% in 2014, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission. The market’s continued growth, spurred by the low cost of deployment and easy-to-use technology, presents a huge opportunity to improve access to financial services across the country, with women entrepreneurs at the forefront.

More Forum blogs
Three lessons on financial inclusion
Can we put an ATM in every village?
Why entrepreneurship can’t solve poverty

Author: Njideka U. Harry is president  and CEO of Youth for Technology Foundation, Nigeria and a World Economic Forum Social Entrepreneur.

Image: A woman takes Nigerian Naira from a bank’s automated teller machine (ATM) in Ikeja district in the commercial capital Lagos November 12, 2014. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye